Ever since reading some billowing prose about the beauty of this climb, Hans Duelfers Meisterstuck, I wanted to climb it. In 2006 Josef and I were on the North Ridge of the Predigtstuhl and this wall looked steep and terrifying. As we climbed our ridge we saw two puny figures lost in it. The final impetus came when I read that the climb successfully done was like a Masters Thesis in alpine rock climbing. Okay…avid credentialist that I am…it must belong to me!

Note that only one of these motivations came from actual experience of the rock…the rest were bits of fancy pieced together from wisps of text. And yet my will was iron-hard! Keep that in mind next time someone convinces you of the rock-solid validity of his beliefs! (iron-hard, rock-solid? God, I mean, can I hear myself?!?)

In 2007 Daniel A. and I went in for it. The route is intimidating from the get-go. You traverse in on a two pitch long slippery-looking ledge of scoops and unforgiving cliffs. Then, some hard moves in thin cracks and bits of polished face. Now Duelfer really shows you who is the boss. A bolt in an overhang lures you up, but it’s nearly impossible to climb it. Finally we pulled on a sling. You think, “If that was supposed to be grade VI, what will happen to me above?!?” Because there is a lot of above, at this point. The terrible traverse on pitch 6 looms in the mind, as do the Exit Cracks. For Daniel and I, it was a sunny day, but frankly, the wall spit us off with pure intimidation.

6 years later, Georg and I were back. It had been a terrible spring and summer for people who like dry things. Not only rain, but snow into June at oddly low elevations! We hoped to redeem ourselves and live with confidence again. “How about the Duelfer Ostwand?” I chirped. Georg was on board, and Saturday morning at 6:30 we were tromping up from the Wochenbrunner Alm with ropes and rack. I was so confident that my jacket was just a flimsy piece of plastic with a zipper. I’m playing head games with the weather god…the key is to show you are not afraid! Not for an instant!

On the way up, Georg related a news story that was huge in Graz, where he’d been studying for a few months. As a way of illustrating how off-the-beaten-path the Steiermark is, the most important news of the day was that a boy had thrown a backpack at another boy, and a pair of scissors flew out and impaled the victim in the head! Amazingly, he was fine after surgery. Whew.

But this was enough fuel for our imaginations to construct the echo of a vast and terrible civilization that MUST live again! You see, the people of the Steiermark are strong, but wily. They will never approach the same way. Their hegemony of the hills and crags was maintained for thousands of years. They saw Rome rise and fall. They fought the Turks with ferocity, and prevailed. Who are these strange peoples? In the hurled backpack, we gain insight. A prejudicial anger at the world that never fully conforms to the Will must be strong. A delight in confusion, a “hang-it-all” freewheeling approach to the oppressive demands of society. Above all, a determination to prevail. All this can be divined as thoughts alive in the first boy. For the first boy is a true Steiermarker! We should all rejoice in the abject display of mans intolerance of weakness!

Um…okay, perhaps we got carried away. I guess in reality Steiermark is just an ordinary province with mostly good people. But by the time we’d hiked to the Elmauer Tor, we were issuing press releases like the following:

A.P. (Graz) - In a stunning discovery today, archeologists have discovered that the entire Steiermarkian province rests on a vast underground cavern…filled, improbably, with skulls. Local farmers expressed confusion and bemusement, but few answers were forthcoming from these taciturn people of the hills. Nevertheless, gates and tunnels which access the vast underground space were found, and showed signs of recent use.

So this goes way back. I mean…jeez. Frankly, we are all doomed if the Steiermark awakens to it’s dormant power.

But until then, we could hike together up still-thick snowfields at the pass. We could look down the other side and see our Wall, occasionally obscured by cloud. We descended on rock, scree and snow, then carefully climbed onto the ramp. Georg and I belay each other across for two pitches, finding this easy terrain strangely intimidating just as Daniel and I did. But this time we moved among wisps of fog, and looked to the sky with a flinching glance. Georg led up the tricky face, battling rock that felt greasy even if it wasn’t wet. Cracks were wet, but climbable. The biggest problem from them was the intimation of a dark future: ever more wetter cracks to come! Already, we were succumbing to the whispered council of the Wall. Grima Wormtongue!

Georg on pitch 5

On pitch 6, approaching the traverse

And now the overhand on pitch 4. I’ve become a better rock climber in the last 6 years, so surely I can climb it. But I was never wronger. I attached slings and aided like a good 1950s rock man. As Georg came up he salved my ego wounds by also finding it very hard and making some use of aid too. We agreed it had nothing to do with grade VI, which was the “free” rating.

So…we’d insulating our minds successfully this time against the feeling that somehow we should have been expected to climb that move free. Left unprotected against that idea, the mind would be eaten from within, and the hand would tremble! Grima, again!

Georg led a cool pitch in the mist, then I started up a steep crack, trying to avoid the wet parts. After a couple delicate moves, I was confronted with a circus of fixed ropes and gear: the Terrible Traverse! With ambition to climb free, I clipped a fixed rope quite high, and confidently set out to the left, eventually realizing the route was 3 meters below me…doh! After spending about 30 seconds trying to figure out how to get down there, I just batmanned down the hanging fixed rope, losing the “free climbed” status pin. But then it was a really neat pitch: 20 meters of traverse protected by a bolt, some pitons and some gear. Somehow there was always a handhold right where you needed it, even though it was facing upside down, or would only hold one finger. I moved cautiously because the rock still felt greasy. Georg came over, looking alternately distracted and bemused, moving soundlessly in the gloomy fog.

So if you want to climb it all free, just remember STAY LOW and go directly across to the piton you’ll see on your left as you top out of the steep crack. Don’t be lured by the welter of fixed gear 3 meters higher. You should be able to protect the move by clipping the knot at the end of the hanging fixed line (though the rope is shredded…long intestines of unsheathed core visibile…just sayin’!).

We kept climbing, both of us noticing that our legs were getting a bit wobbly. We had tired rather easily! And then we sat momentarily under a dripping overhang, having climbed over slime-encased rock that thankfully had a few pointy bits sticking out for our rubber shoes. The sky darkened further, and in the dim half-light Georg set out across the Duelferstrasse. Some wag of an earlier age had executed the equivalent in climbing of the lampshade on the head party trick. A street sign was chained to the rock here, hanging at a jaunty angle: “Duelferstrasse.” Heh.

But there were neat traverse moves. “They really liked to traverse and climb down in the past,” mused Georg, truthfully. Later, he was morally offended in the Exit Cracks that a much better climbing way had been ignored in favor of brutal vertical chimney and offwidth. “All they had was the Arm, and the Hammer.” Georg is a ton of fun!

We also realized that I’d been unintentionally insincere in my German pronunciation. If I was speaking English, then used a German word, I had the habit of pausing before and after the word, and altering my voice somewhat. I intended to portray the sound of italics. “I hope that the…Ausstiegsrisse…is not too wet!” Only after thinking about it a while, I realized that my “italics voice” was built on “german tv commercial narrator voice,” a pleasingly low gravelly sound, with a hint of regionalism to convey authenticity.

As it turns out, German folks think I’m making fun of them when I do that! No I’m not…but now I understand…and will try to improve! Oh curse you Grima Fleischtongue!

On the gloomy Duelferstrasse

Michael “crosses the street”

Easy terrain and a break in the clouds

The “easily impaled” pitch

But we continued…and the day gradually grew brighter from that darkest point on the Duelferstrasse. Georg led one pitch with a unique death-trap. He had to climb a strenuous overhang after standing on tip-toe on a series of dagger-like shards. If I didn’t keep the rope very tight, a slip would impale him! We are Serious Men, with Serious Problems!

Now for the Exit Cracks. Sounds really cool to name it like that. Like, we must be on the Eiger or something. The first one was very nice, Georg led up smoothly. There is plenty of protection, enough pitons and bolts that I think Georg only placed one cam. The second pitch had an intimidating look. A vertical chimney which narrowed to off-width. Then, friendlier terrain reminiscent of the previous pitch, but it was hard to see how to connect the two. I started up, wasting some energy thrutching deep in the crack when I probably should have stayed outside. One wall was wet, and some of the cracks were slimy. The Worm was at work again on my mind.

I kept going to the point where you can either escape to the left or continue up the off-width. I tried left, but with my feet pasted on a 60 degree slab, and one greasy handhold at the same angle, I gave up. I rested here on the rope a moment, then tried to the right. I scoped out some footholds in the wet crack, and had a very good (if wet) handhold. Begin thrutching…a form of climbing where the most important thing is to grunt and tense every muscle! I inched up, realizing I could rest if I tensed my splayed frog-legs…I would be held pinned like a bug by the tender embrace of the chimney! But no long stops…keep going. Finally a dry handhold outside the crack, and relief and escape to a ledge on the left.

Here I panted like some kind of farm animal for a full five minutes. Georg’s moral outrage at the ridiculous line of Arm and Hammer simmered below. Finally I continued, enjoying the climbing so much because I knew I’d passed through the eye of the needle for this particular climb…bruised but still standing. I placed a cam, clipped a bolt, slung a chockstone. I belayed Georg up. The clouds parted as I did so. A ray of sun turned a far away meadow fluorescent green. The valley below was visible, with tiny ant-like men moving on their tedious missions. An alien civilization would never accuse them of being here for fun. Certainly they were after resources to eat, or certain small stones to use in religions rituals. On the latter, I guess they’d be correct.

Michael in the Exit Crack

End of the difficulties!

The Totenkirchl

Georg, well-pleased

The Wilder Kaiser in a gloomy mood